Finally, Prague!

It’s 12:46 a.m., I’m on the flight from scorching-hot Vienna to even-hotter Greece, and I’ve finally got time to write about Prague.

Prague was a fantastic surprise. Even though everything I’d heard about Prague was great, I still wasn’t prepared for how interesting and different it would be from the other places I’ve visited in Europe. When we showed up, on a Sunday evening, it seemed so quiet that I wondered if there were any tourists there. We headed for the famous Cafe Europa for dinner and were one of two tables being served.

The next day we took the tram to the other side of the river that flows through Prague, then crossed back over a picturesque bridge to the Jewish Quarter. Still few tourists in sight as I paused to take this picture of the castle that dominates Prague’s skyline:

We passed through a nearly-abandoned square with this statue of legendary composer Antonin Dvorak:

We walked another block towards the famous Jewish cemetery, still seeing few tourists. Then, as we turned the corner near the entrance to the cemetery, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by tourists. Where did they all come from? It made sense that they were here; the Jewish Quarter was just about the only place with any tourist attractions open on a Monday. We packed in to the Burial Society building, where no photos were allowed, and read about the burial process for devout Jews. One of the things we learned is that there was limited burial space for Jews in what was then Bohemia due to religious persecution, and because Jewish law required that bodies be buried at least six hands’ worth of soil apart, they quickly began to stack up. When we later entered the cemetery, we saw the result: the whole place began to look like a mound, higher in the middle, and all of it much higher than the surrounding streets. You can get a bit of a sense of it in this photo:

Yes, that’s Jim, wearing a disposable yarmulke provided by the cemetery proprietors for proper Jewish respect for the dead. This photo might give an even better sense of how tightly the graves are packed in to this tiny plot.

There was even a Hebrew-style clock in Jewish quarter:

As you can see, not only are the numbers Hebrew, but the clock runs “backward,” counter-clockwise (I wonder if the meaning of “clockwise” is reversed for some people). Also note that the minute hand, not the hour hand, is the short one.

But the real reason Greta wanted to come to Prague was to see this clock:

The clock sits on the side of the old Town Hall, and every hour huge crowds come to watch the show when it chimes. We arrived about ten minutes early. About five minutes after I took this picture, the skies opened up and dumped the first true downpour of our trip on our heads. I managed to make a dash to a covered area within sight of the clock, but Greta, Jim, and Nora couldn’t push through the crowd and so had to under the one umbrella we’d brought with us that day (the other three were safe and dry in our hotel room). The rain let up in time for the clock to chime: the skeleton and three of the other figures do a little dance, and the twelve apostles each make an appearance in the windows above the clock. I think all the fancy pointers and such on the clock actually mean something too, but we couldn’t figure it out from first principles, and our guidebook didn’t offer much help, so that will have to remain a mystery for the time being.

Later we came across this statue, which Jim and Nora were eerily skillful at imitating:

The next day we went to the Castle, which, though there’s no Czech monarchy, has a changing-of-the-guard ceremony that’s nearly as elaborate as the one at Buckingham Palace. First a large crowd gathers. Then the solders march in:

They do this amazing slow-motion march that’s difficult to explain, but quite impressive. They marched right past us:

One very frustrating thing about Prague was the large number of no-photo exhibitions. I don’t have many more pictures from Prague; just this one of the kids relaxing in a very nice restaurant halfway up the funicuolar railway overlooking the city.

They loved the fact that they got to sit in a couch, even though a setup like that would have been incredibly frustrating to, say, me.

Well, that’s all for now. I have no idea how coherent this is since I’m practically falling asleep as I write this. Ech!

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